Rather than address these needs in free agency, the Steelers will turn to the NFL draft. Here they will look to build upon their recent success in finding players who can contribute right away.
In the past, the Steelers have taken their time in developing young players. Rather than throw a rookie into the fire, they would use a veteran as a stopgap to keep the seat warm until the rookie was ready to go.
In fact, between 2000 and 2009, the Steelers only had seven players start at least eight games as a rookie. Five of them—Plaxico Burress, Marvel Smith, Casey Hampton, Kendrell Bell and Kendall Simmons—were drafted between 2000 and 2002.
This philosophy changed in 2010 when Art Rooney II told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he wanted more contributions from young players:
I do think that one of the things we have to do is probably get better at developing our younger players. That's something we have to think about and make sure we're doing what we need to do to have guys being able to step in maybe a little earlier. And over the next year or two, there's no question we have some age on the defense and there's going to be some turnover
Since then, the Steelers have had 12 players contribute at least one start as a rookie. This included four players who earned this distinction in 2012 and five in 2013
Jarvis Jones, Le’Veon Bell and Vince Williams led the way, all earning at least eight starts last season. To put this in perspective, the Steelers hadn’t had multiple rookie starters on their defense since Hampton and Bell in 2001.
With 22 free agents, the Steelers will have plenty of work to do come draft day. Not only do they need to add depth, but also find a player or two capable of stepping into the starting lineup.
As nice as it would be to add Jake Matthews, Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson or Sammy Watkins to the mix, they are unlikely to fall outside of the top 10. With that said, here are seven realistic players who could immediately start for the Steelers.